These short pieces were originally published as a part of the AileyCamp Diary, which is a compendium of texts and photos created each year by the Cal Performances PR Department. AileyCamp is an annual summer camp for at-risk youth held in multiple locations nationwide. Cal Performances has hosted the Berkeley/Oakland AileyCamp for roughly a decade. The diary is targeted at campers' parents, as well as press and donors.
Ballet Class: A Performance in the Making
For AileyCamp volunteer Samantha Swails, the camp has been tremendously inspiring. A camper from 2008, this rising senior at Oakland School of the Arts loves working with youth of this particular age group. "I love hearing what they have to say. At this age, you really get inspired to do what you've always wanted to do. Adults can overlook this age group, but I find them inspiring."
After Samantha finished camp in 2008, she was asked to return as a volunteer, but was unable to do so until 2012 because of her involvement with her art school and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011. As a talented thespian, Samantha and her classmates put together a stage adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Trial, which they performed in Edinburgh last summer. She was happy to return to camp as a volunteer this year, saying, "I enjoy giving back. They've given me so many tools that I use everyday." Part of her duties as a volunteer involves acting as a teacher's assistant during the dance classes. Ballet instructor Priya Shah asked Samantha to help the campers with their acting abilities. The ballet piece that they will be performing is a tribute to Trayvon Martin and all young victims of gun violence, set to Michael Andrews and Gary Jules' cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World." Samantha plans to teach the campers about how the body is influenced by outside energy, hoping that this concept will help them with this emotionally-charged piece.
Though there are no particular roles in this ballet piece, it does feature a soloist who represents victims of gun violence such as Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant. To play this part, Priya chose a talented 11-year-old boy named Pierre Grigsby-Olson. Like Samantha, Pierre will be attending the Oakland School of the Arts in the fall. He said he was planning on studying theater, but thanks to AileyCamp, he has changed his mind and would rather study dance. Though he has no prior ballet experience, Pierre does have experience with African and Haitian dance forms, in addition to practicing hip-hop after school daily. AileyCamp has been a fantastic experience for Pierre-he's made a lot of new friends and learned new styles of dance. "Jazz dance is not easy," he says, but he quickly added, "I expect challenges. Nothing should be easy here."
Berkeley/Oakland AileyCamp 2012 at Cal Performances comes to an end
"Last night's performance was absolutely phenomenal. It was emotional, it was...pretty close to perfection." AileyCamp director David McCauley was overjoyed with the outcome of the six-week summer camp. "I loved the arc of the evening and the way the dances flowed into one another. You see individuals working something out, and then it all comes together."
After the show, David spoke with campers' parents and friends, as well as donors to the AileyCamp program. "When they talked about the show, tears would start to well up in their eyes. And that's how you know there was a real exchange of energy."
On Friday morning, the campers returned to go over the previous night's recital. Each camper has one-on-one time with his/her group leader and each instructor. There is a small graduation ceremony for the campers and their families, where completion certificates are presented and four particularly outstanding campers are awarded with signed AAADT posters.
"I love seeing how enthusiastic they are to get up and dance for the last time," David says of graduation. "It's nice to watch them say goodbye. Many of them live far from each other, so they won't see each other until the reunions." AileyCamp hosts two reunions—one in November, in which David takes the kids to see Mama Naomi's dance company perform; and one in April, in which they see the AAADT concert at Cal Performances. With a combination of an outstanding staff and eager campers, AileyCamp 2012 was a rousing success.
Copyright Cal Performances, U.C. Regents, 2012